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Posts Tagged ‘health’

Every night, the same question comes up, of what to make for dinner? Tonight’s no different. No leftover in the fridge to give me a hint. Instead an odd assortment of vegetables, not even enough to make a soup with. And no help to be had from family members. All four have different ideas, and I do not have the time nor the desire to accommodate all. I shall make an executive decision. Of course, it would be nice to be ‘creative’ and step out of the usual repertoire, for a change. But tonight’s not the night. I am going to go for the safest bet. Roasted chicken with potatoes, and a green salad. I can zip over to Whole Foods, buy their organic fryer, organic potatoes, and organic lettuce, and while I am at it, a few extra vegetables so I can make a soup out of the leftovers tomorrow. Preparation time, 15′ total, and I can go back to my work, while the creature’s cooking in the oven. Done.

There is a lot to be said for that roasted chicken dinner. Most importantly, it meets all four criteria in my good food book:

  1. Cost: a whole chicken can be stretched over two meals for four people, easily, with roasted chicken first day, and chicken soup with rice the day after
  2. Health: no worries to be had with natural, organic ingredients
  3. Convenience: both meals are easy and quick to make, less than 15′, my usual limit on week days
  4. Taste: it’s hard to mess up roasted chicken, plus who doesn’t like chicken?

In a perfect world, I would have a hundred ‘roasted chicken’ recipes to pick from. The reality is closer to five or six meals, that I keep repeating, from week to week. The children have noticed. Oh! we’re having crepes again . . . How about a different dressing for the salad? I have fallen into a rut. I wish I could be more creative and fancy myself as one of my French friends, for whom cooking is still very much a daily practice in effortless imagination. Once in a while, I decide to shake things up a bit, and invest in a new cookbook. Last time, was The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution, by Alice Waters. I remember being quite excited, and thinking this was going to be THE book, unlike the thirty previous volumes, that have been gathering dust on my kitchen shelf. Of course, my interest in THE book was short-lived. I found it hard to make Alice’s recipes mine. An interesting observation, given that, objectively, her recipes embody all I want in food.

I am left with the question of why? How come is it that I keep going back to these few ‘comfort recipes’? When I could so easily whip myself into shape, and start meal planning the heck out of Alice’s cookbook, gathering hundreds of perfect recipes in the process. The answer is in the smell coming out of my oven right now. The aroma from the roasted chicken, and the potatoes brings me right back to my mother, and also my grandmother’s kitchen, to my French peasant roots of uncomplicated, good food. From the many more dishes that I watched, and sometimes helped them make, only le poulet roti, les pommes de terre au four, la salade verte toute bete, la soupe de legumes, les crepes, la tarte aux pommes, and le pudding au chocolat have remained in my primal core . . .

Of course, I am fortunate, to have been wired early on to only appreciate really good, natural food. That I am a boring cook with a limited repertoire is a small problem, compared to what happens for the majority of people in America, who have been brought up to love not natural food, but fast food instead.  To them, a visit to McDonald’s may bring up the same positive emotional onslaught as the one I feel when cooking my grandmother’s vegetable soup. And cooking naturally, or even cooking period, may be a lot harder for them to get into. Although hugely popular, cookbooks, recipe websites, and TV cooking shows, often cannot compete with the aroma of a Big Mac with French fries, on the side.

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With less money to spend every month, many Americans are turning to coupons to stretch their food budget. Last weekend, I decided to join the ranks, and sat down at my kitchen table, armed with scissors and the two inserts from our Sunday paper. And started clipping away.

Coupons' Trap

I decided to separate the coupons into three piles:

Coupons that passed the test of my health conscious, green filter, and the only ones I may possibly use:

  • Minute Maid Juices, Lipton Teas, Stash Tea, EarthGrains Whole Wheat Bread, Tabasco – not a hundred percent sure about the EarthGrains Bread, I tried to check the ingredients online, without success –

The suspicious pile, coupons for products that won’t kill you, but all come with health/nutrition problems attached, to various degrees. Red flags such as too much salt, too much sugar, too much fat, GMO baggage, unnecessary packaging, radiation, pesticides, excessive processing, toxic eakage from plastic linings, added chemicals, grains stripped away from their wholeness, empty calories, fried potatoes, too much red meat:

  • Progresso Chicken Broth, Green Giant Frozen Vegetables, Star Olive Oil, Vinegar, and Olives, Mrs. Dash Seasoning Blend, Spice Islands Spices, Quaker Oatmeal, Fresh Express Pre-cut Salad, Del Monte Canned Fruit and Vegetables, Ragu Pasta Sauce, Skippy Peanut Butter, College Inn Broths and Stocks, Uncle Ben’s Long Grain and Wild Rice, Lawry’s Seasonings, Newman’s Dressings, Swiss Miss Cocoa, Bisquick Pancake Mix, Best Foods Mayonnaise, Pillsbury Dinner Rolls and Biscuits, Daisy Sour Cream, PoppyCock Nuts, Pam Spray, True North Nuts, Lipton Dinners, Kraft Salad Dressings, CountryCrock Cinnamon Apples, International House of Pancakes, Black Angus Steak House, Bakers Square Dinners, Betty Crocker Au Gratin Potatoes, Jell-O, Planters Nuts, C&H Sugar, Tyson Fully Cooked Bacon, Fiber One Toaster Pastries, Betty Crocker Cookie Mix, Quaker Chewy Granola Bars, Lee Kum Kee Sauces, Hillshire Farm Cocktail Links

The obviously junky bunch:

  • Betty Crocker Frosting, Cool-Whip, Big G Kid Cereals, Chuck E Cheese Pizza and Coca Cola Drinks, White Castle Microwavable Burgers, Reddi Whip, Entenmann’s Doughnuts, Hershey’s Chocolates, Kozy Schack Desserts, M&Ms

If I had any lingering doubts about the intentions of the food industry as a whole, this little exercise put them to rest. Coupons were not created with the interest of consumers in mind. Rather they are yet another marketing tactic from consumer packaged goods manufacturers to push their highly processed foods, regardless of their actual health benefit or lack thereof.

I say, let us not fall into the coupon trap, and seek instead, other, smarter ways to save, that won’t hurt our health.

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Have you tried sorting out the information on fish? Which kind can you eat without worrying about mercury, PCBs, chlorinated pesticides, dioxins, furans, PBDEs, and other nasty contaminants? You would think there is one central place with all that info, neatly packaged into one pocket size guide. There is. Actually, there are, and that’s the problem. Several sources, all with different recommendations:

3To be safe, I guess I will just stick to the ones they all agree on: anchovies, catfish (farmed), clams (farmed), crab (Dungeness), crawfish (domestic), mackerel (Atlantic), oysters (farmed), salmon (wild, Alaska), sardines (Pacific, domestic), scallops (bay, farmed), squid (Pacific, domestic), tilapia (farmed, domestic), trout (fresh water, farmed). 

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We’ve all witnessed that scene. A mom, obviously not rich, waiting in line with her brood, at the checkout counter, her shopping cart overflowing with bottled water and sodas. Inspired by that image, I decided to take a look at some hard Nielsen data on U.S grocery sales, and came across some rather stunning numbers:

Mom Does Not Always Know Best
La Marguerite Blog Compilation

Add it all up, and you’ve got the majority of households spending between a fourth and a third of their grocery budget on junk, and empty calories. That’s a lot of money, that could be used on other more nutritious groceries such as milk, fruit, vegetable, meat, and other non processed food. It’s also wasted precious dollars in increasingly dire economic times.

There are plenty of reasons why women – the primary grocery shoppers – persist with such deplorable spending habits. Ten, according to a recent report from US News & World Report, ‘10 Things the Food Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know’:

  1. Junk food makers spend billions advertising unhealthy foods to kids
  2. The studies that food producers support tend to minimize health concerns associated with their products
  3. Junk food makers donate large sums of money to professional nutrition associations
  4. More processing means more profits, but typically makes the food less healthy
  5. Less-processed foods are generally more satiating than their highly processed counterparts
  6. Many supposedly healthy replacement foods are hardly healthier than the foods they replace
  7. A health claim on the label doesn’t necessarily make a food healthy
  8. Food industry pressure has made nutritional guidelines confusing
  9. The food industry funds front groups that fight antiobesity public health initiatives
  10. The food industry works aggressively to discredit its critics

Will the stores take the relay and act as advocates for the shoppers? According to another study, this one from Bishop Consulting, ‘In-Store Nutritionists Will Be as Commonplace as Pharmacists within Ten Years‘, some encouraging trends are taking place in grocery retail, along with initiatives from some manufacturers.

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This parrot fish at the fish stand in Honolulu Chinatown looked too good, not to buy it.

After yesterday’s post, I just wonder how safe is it? How much of the chemicals from the pelagic plastic we found on the beach, have made their way into the flesh of the parrot fish?

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Lynette Evans wrote a great article, ‘Save the Money by Saving the Planet’, about the win win strategy of buying natural cleaning products instead of the usual commercial paraphernalia. Her maths are pretty convincing:

Commercial products: Windex Original, $4.39; Pine-Sol Cleaner, $4.69; Kaboom Shower Tub & Tile Cleaner, $5.69; Chlorox Disinfecting Wipes, $6.19; Formula 409 All Purpose Cleaner, $4,19; Palmolive Ultra Original Dish Soap, $3.49; Clorox Bleach, $2.29; O-Cel-O Sponges, $2.59; Swiffer Duster, $6.09. Total: $39.61.

Natural cleaning products: Heinz Distilled Vinegar, $3.90; Arm & Hammer Baking Soda. $1.15; Planet Ultra Dishwashing Liquid, $3.49; Mule Team Borax, $4.39; Hydrogen Peroxide, $.59; Old cotton towels, $o; Crumpled newspaper, $0. Total: $13.52.

Lynette did the maths. $26.09 savings for us, and for the planet. I wrote a similar post a while back, where I stated my good intentions. The smell of all those chemicals was getting to me. Yet, I did not take any steps. Our cleaning cabinet is still filled with the same poisonous chemicals. Seems like another item to add to my green to-do-list.

To-do-list: get rid of existing cleaning products and buy natural substitutes instead

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I am a sinner, looking for redemption. Today, I shall make amend, by spreading the word regarding a research study I just read about in the Science Blog. According to the research, just published by Cornell University, forty percent of world deaths are caused by pollution. I knew it was bad, but not this bad. Makes you think, about what to do, to get to the powers in charge. So far, I have shied away from activism, as it is just not my thing. Now, I am starting to wonder. Staying on the sidelines may no longer be an option I can live with.

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